Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Christians and "2nd Amendment Rights"

Teaching today on existentialism, so read this passage to a group of undergrads.

Is it my imagination?  Or could this say something about Christians who insist on their "2nd Amendment Rights"?

St Paul sees that the life of man is weighed down by anxiety (μεριμναν, I Cor. 7.32ff.). Every man focuses his anxiety upon some particular object. The natural man focuses it upon security, and in proportion to his opportunities and his success in the visible sphere he places his “confidence” in the “flesh” (Phil. 3.3f.), and the consciousness of security finds its expression in “glorying” (καυχασθαι).
Such a pursuit is, however, incongruous with man’s real situation, for the fact is that he is not secure at all. Indeed, this is the way in which he loses his true life and becomes the slave of that very sphere which he had hoped to master, and which he hoped would give him security. Whereas hitherto he might have enjoyed the world as God’s creation, it has now become “this world”, the world in revolt against God. This is the way in which the “powers” which dominate human life come into being, and as such they acquire the character of mythical entities. Since the visible and tangible sphere is essentially transitory, the man who bases his life on it becomes the prisoner and slave of corruption. An illustration of this may be seen in the way our attempts to secure visible security for ourselves bring us into collision with others; we can seek security for ourselves only at their expense. Thus on the one hand we get envy, anger, jealousy, and the like, and on the other compromise, bargainings, and adjustments of conflicting interests. This creates an all-pervasive atmosphere which controls all our judgements; we all pay homage to it and take it for granted. Thus man becomes the slave of anxiety (Rom. 8.15). Everybody tries to hold fast to his own life and property, because he has a secret feeling that it is all slipping away from him.

The Life of Faith
The authentic life, on the other hand, would be a life based on unseen, intangible realities. Such a life means the abandonment of all self-contrived security. This is what the New Testament means by “life after the Spirit” or “life in faith”.
For this life we must have faith in the grace of God. It means faith that the unseen, intangible reality actually confronts us as love, opening up our future and signifying not death but life.
The grace of God means the forgiveness of sin, and brings deliverance from the bondage of the past. The old quest for visible security, the hankering after tangible realities, and the clinging to transitory objects, is sin, for by it we shut out invisible reality from our lives and refuse God’s future which comes to us as a gift. But once we open our hearts to the grace of God, our sins are forgiven; we are released from the past. This what is meant by “faith”: to open ourselves freely to the future. But at the same time faith involves obedience, for faith means turning our backs on self and abandoning all security. It means giving up every attempt to carve out a niche in life for ourselves, surrendering all our self-confidence, and resolving to trust in God alone, in the God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1.9) and who calls the things that are not into being (Rom. 4.17). It means a radical self-commitment to God in the expectation that everything will come from him and nothing from ourselves. Such a life spells deliverance from all worldly, tangible objects, leading to complete detachment from the world and thus to freedom.

Rudolf Bultmann, “The New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), 18-20.

Monday, February 04, 2013


From today's Sojourner's "Verse and Voice":
"We want no revolution; we want the brotherhood of men. We want men to love one another. We want all men to have what is sufficient for their needs. But when we meet people who deny Christ in His poor, we feel, 'Here are the atheists.' They turned first from Christ crucified because He was a poor worker, buffeted and spat upon and beaten. And now — strange thought — the devil has so maneuvered that the people turn from Him because those who profess Him are clothed in soft raiment and sit at well-spread tables and deny the poor." -Dorothy Day

From today's Daily Oklahoman:

"Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said the Republican-controlled House likely will consider legislation this month to re-allocate the cuts so they don’t disproportionately hit the military."
 "Lankford, a member of the House GOP leadership, declined to discuss the specifics of the plan, but he said the Republican alternative would require more changes to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. As structured, only 2 percent of the reductions in the next 10 years would come from Medicare and none from Medicaid, Lankford said."

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Paul Simon and Will

Don't know why I never thought of posting this link, but here it is -- a link to my son's (Will's) post on the night we went to the Paul Simon concert in OKC.

In 2010, just a few months after he had graduated from college, for Christmas Will got me a really nice Starbucks coffee mug (which I still use).  But in 2011, he got me a ticket to see Paul Simon.  And one for Mendy (Will's mom and my wife of 28 years), too.  I felt very good that he was gainfully employed.  And you can see why we're so proud of him and his sweet wife Holly.

Not only is it a blog post, but there is some one-of-a-kind video, which Will took when he was about 6 feet from Paul as he and the band did an impromptu set in the lobby before the actual concert.  Wow.  It was a grand sing-a-long-with-Paul on some of his older hits.  We all knew the words.  We all joined him.  Probably everyone cried.  It was incredible.  I may never go to another concert again because no concert experience could ever match this one.

So, if you get a chance, read his post, watch the videos.  Happy Saturday.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Ken Adams, “A Mass for Peace,” and The Hunger Games

This last Sunday afternoon was filled with Dr. Ken Adams’ final concert at OC, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, by Karl Jenkins. “Filled” seems a little too mild – “overwhelmed” is probably the better term for what we experienced.

First of all, thank you Ken for your wonderful service for all these years, and for the inspiration you have been to so many students and faculty who hope to be just a little bit like you – and maybe just half as good as you have been.

Not only was the concert a wonderful tribute to Dr. (and Mrs.!) Adams –a richly deserved tribute, too–but it was also Ken’s “parting shot,” “final message,” and indeed his legacy.

Jenkins’ work combines a variety of texts, both secular and sacred, to describe the tidal wave that sweeps human beings into war. The sacred texts employed from the Christian Mass seem to portray the justifications we attempt to give our tendencies to violence: every side of every war believes God is with them and against their enemies. But these texts in Jenkins piece seemed also to convey the gravity of the impending disaster and bloodshed — the gravity that is often ignored as the saber-rattling on each side, the chest-pounding rhetoric of threat, pride and bravado, reaches a chaotic crescendo. In Jenkins’ work, the crescendo is reached in the “Charge!” The chaos of battle is graphically recreated by a cacophony of . . . noise; random, screeching, vulgar non-musical noises that make you want to cover your ears.

“Charge!” is followed by “Angry Flames,” which includes part of a poem written from a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Then, “Torches,” from the ancient Hindu epic “The Mahabharata”:

The animals scattered in all directions, screaming terrible screams.
Many were burning, others were burnt.

All were shattered and scattered mindlessly, their eyes bulging.
Some hugged their sons, others their fathers and mothers.
Unable to let them go, and so they died.

Others leapt up in their thousands, faces disfigured,
and were consumed by the fire.

Everywhere were bodies squirming on the ground:
wings, eyes and paws all burning;
They breathed their last as living torches.

Then follow four pieces that reflect the aftermath of the battle, and the calm in which we realize the destruction and waste we have created in our latest “war to end all wars”: “Agnus Dei,” “Now the Guns Have Stopped,” “Benedictus,” and “Better is Peace.”

I was stunned after "Charge!" and at the end of the work could only pray for forgiveness for us all.  If you've never heard it, buy the CD or find it on your music service.  Find a way to listen to it.  You won't want to listen to it often, I suspect, but it's well worth having. 

I went last week to see The Hunger Games. The theme of the movie seemed to me to be the utter waste of lives – and the “sacrifices” we are willing to make and even celebrate in order to maintain certain causes – or even charades. In the movie, the whole nation looks on and celebrates the deaths of young people who are thrust into a situation not of their own making – part of which is the necessity to try to kill each other. Some of them are trained killers, and you can see from the beginning that their humanity was long ago drilled out of them. Some kill out of sheer hate, some only reluctantly. But the society looks on – and has in fact turned the event into an extended game show – and celebrates the “sacrifices.” All of the participants – both those killed and those who live – are heralded as heroes. The dead? Well, that’s just a price the nation was willing to pay. Sad, but it had to be done.

Nations go to war and and sell it to their people – sell the sacrifices – by telling them that these sacrifices just have to be made, that they are worth the price. I wonder.

Benedictine nun Joan Chittister wrote: “The vision of a culture lies in what becomes its major institutions, in what it remembers as its most impacting events, in who it sees as its heroes.”

Psalm 11.5: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.”

I don't really wonder.  I know that these sacrifices are not worth whatever "benefit" we get from them.  We make these sacrifices out of our selfishness.  May God have mercy.

Thanks, Dr. Adams, for leaving us this legacy of a man who loves peace. May we have more heroes like you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (2): "Contradiction #2: Pro-Technology vs. Anti-Free Market"

This one's easy -- so easy I'm almost embarrassed to even bother.  But, here goes.

Mr. Vallorani's 2nd attempt at a stab-wound:

Contradiction #2: Pro-Technology vs. Anti-Free Market
I love Apple products. I think Steve Jobs was a genius. I have a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an iPhone 4s. Many liberals (especially Occupiers) love Apple products too. As a capitalist, I am consistent in purchasing Apple products. They are not. They build web sites to promote their socialist causes while using software and technology that is only made possible in a free market environment. Apple products would not (and could not) have been created in a socialist nation. There’s no way liberals could fight capitalism without the very tools capitalism provides!
Yes, I too have a Macbook and an iPhone.  Vallorani's claim that these could not have been invented in socialist nations is, at best, ignorant, and at worst . . . well, politeness keeps me from saying it.

Here's a link to a recent Washington Post op-ed by Francis Tapon, in which he says:
Hungarians, for example, invented the ballpoint pen and holography. A Hungarian, John George Kemeny, co-invented the BASIC programming language with American Thomas Kurtz. Hungarians also invented artificial blood and the Rubik’s Cube. Four Estonians designed Skype. Russians were the first in space, made the biggest nuclear bomb, designed Tetris, and created the iPhone of assault rifles (the AK-47).
Claims such as Vallorani has made are akin to claims of "American Exceptionalism," which seems to be a doctrinal sine qua non for running for president: we have to promote the myth that we Americans are God's chosen nation, and that we are the "best nation on earth," and such is exhibited in our supremacy in the field of technology.  In so doing, we have to have something with which to compare ourselves so that our exceptionalism is supported, and we like to choose those nasty socialist European countries, yada yada yada.

I know most of you (if there are any!) who read this don't actually need to hear what I'm about to say, but just in case someone wanders into my blogden of iniquity: America is a great place to live in many ways, and preferable to many.  Personally, I like it (some parts better than others, of course). But guess what: Hungarians and Estonians and Russians and Norwegians and Spaniards (ad infinitum) would also say that they would rather live in their own countries than anywhere else on earth -- and by the way, some of them have indeed visited the United States, and still want to live in their own country.  Go figure.

Those claims are also akin to some of the political rhetoric going on among the Republican presidential candidates, which is sometimes directed also at President Obama, concerning their alleged ties to or (at some level) acceptance of the cultures -- and specifically the languages -- of other countries.  So, one of them speaks French, another once did a commercial in really bad Spanish, etc. And those things were cast as somehow "bad" or as an affront to American Exceptionalism.  Sad. Are we really that determined to be ignorant?

We're not exceptional, and innovation can take place anywhere -- and it has.  We're one country among many great places to live.  We are not God's chosen nation (just ask the Jews).  If we had been, I'm pretty sure God would have unchosen us over the whole genocide thing against the original peoples of this geographical territory, anyway.

Finally, it seems to me that Vallorani's assumption about the free market being necessary to creative work assumes something else that is basically wrong: that greed, acquisition or self-promotion are the only things that can drive innovation.  It seems to me that's a godless assumption.  Can love of friends and family also drive innovation?  What about pure curiosity?  What about seeking after God? What about simply trying to understand God's creation?  All of these -- and more -- have driven some of the greatest innovations in history, and all without a capitalist "free market" economy.

The fact that some "conservatives" view America this way is ignorant and dangerous.  Ignorant we've already discussed.  How is it dangerous?  Well, ignorance means you will be unable to anticipate threats, because it creates a hubris that assumes our exceptionalism is so clear that no one would dare to challenge us.  I think that hubris was what led to 911.  Further, the hubris causes us not to take challenges (when we actually see them) seriously.  We think we can just stomp into a nation and "shock and awe" them into complete submission.  Ten years of Iraqi occupation didn't do that, and apparently has not taught some people anything at all.  Hubris.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (1c): First "Contradiction": "Pro-Abortion vs. Anti-Capital Punishment"

The author of the post, Mr. Brandon Vallorani, lists this as his first example:
Contradiction #1: Pro-Abortion vs. Anti-Capital Punishment
Liberals support the killing of unborn children in the name of convenience, choice, etc. These children have committed no crimes; however, if that child survives abortion and grows up to commit murder later in life, a Liberal will scream “injustice” if that person is sentenced to death.
Interestingly, I know of plenty of Republicans -- in fact, MOST of them -- who would support abortions in cases of rape and incest, or if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.  So my first objection to this caricature (and it IS a caricature) is its own hypocrisy.

Let me make my own stance clear here before I go on.  My wife and I discussed this when we were engaged (and perhaps even before that, as we became aware that our relationship might become "serious"), and her own statement was to the effect that, if she were pregnant in such a condition, she would carry the baby full term.  Period.  Even if it cost her own life.

As a young man madly in love, I had a hard time with that.  (I'm definitely anti-abortion, but specifically because I'm fully pro-life.  Yes, I'm a pro-life Democrat.)  I had to picture myself telling doctors, according to my wife's wishes, to let her die and save an unborn fetus.  I had to picture my sweet young fiance carrying a baby full-term that was the result of some horrendous act of violence against her.  But I also think she was making the right choices.  I agree, reluctantly.  That's the kind of thing that eventually led us to marry -- we have deep agreement on the big "life-issues" (though we still disagree about the value of country music!).  Thankfully we never had that difficult situation arise -- we've been very fortunate.  But other people have actually had to face such choices.

In the end, I also have to recognize that I live in a country that at least fashions itself to be a democracy.  I don't get to make everybody's choices for them.  Most of the people in our nation apparently believe that abortion ought to be allowed in at least certain conditions.  That's part of what it means to live in a democratic society.  I have to go along with the majority, even if I disagree.  I may not like it; I may think the majority is wrong or even immoral.  But, I have to go along, just as others have to go along when they hold the minority opinion and I happen to side with the majority.

Most of the Democrats I know are pro-life, even those who believe that everybody gets to make their own choices about abortion.  And that's one of the things that Mr. Vallorani doesn't quite grasp, thus he doesn't understand the stance against capital punishment (which many "liberals" hold, though many do not -- so to caricature all liberals as hypocritical seems a bit of a stretch here).  I would wager that I'm more pro-life than Mr. Vallorani.

You see, no one is "pro-abortion."  That's just a lie that makes a great sound-bite on certain "news" channels and in Republican campaign speeches.  It's great to be able to caricature your opponents as horrible death-mongers who are worse than Attila the Hun, etc.  Sometimes the comparison might actually have some truth to it, but in this case, it's just hot air.  I have never, NEVER had a conversation with a "pro-choice" person who was actually "pro-abortion."

Now, I do have to admit that there are some people who take the whole abortion issue rather casually.  I sincerely believe they're wrong to do so, and they do not share my moral convictions.  I am fine with, should occasion arise, sharing my own moral convictions with such a person and trying to convince them not to abort.  But again, this is a democracy, and there are areas of disagreement on this issue that must also be taken seriously -- for instance, are we talking about a "baby" here, or a "fetus"?  To be "pro-life" means to value "life."  But when can we call this fetus/baby a "life"?  That's a question not of science but of semantics.  My own definition I hope is clear, but I have to admit that most others in America have a different set of semantic values that go into their use of the word "life," and I have to allow them their own space and freedom.

So, the caricature of "liberals" is severely misguided here, and even dishonest.  One of the responders to the original post (either 1 or 1b) mentioned that in this series I'm attacking a rather weak opponent, and that I should tackle one of the more (allegedly) nuanced statements.  I'm ok with that, but this is the statement that, first of all, was being sent around by some of my (allegedly) "conservative" friends, and I'm hearing the same kinds of statements as Mr. Vallorani has made in various campaign speeches of the Republican candidates.  So, I don't think I'm out of bounds by trying to point out the flaws in the logic of these statements.

Here's what I would propose: those who style themselves "pro-life" should be consistent about it, and that means also abolishing capital punishment.  It also means we have to value not just American babies, but the babies of the Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians -- or wherever else our government decides we need to bomb next.  You see, some of my friends (whom I love!) are "anti-abortion" but have no qualms about killing our enemies, even those who are pregnant -- thus killing their unborn babies as well.  We don't even spend a lot of time lamenting the destruction.  We just sigh and shrug it off as "collateral damage" and "part of the price of war."  Bull.  Shrugging it off is hypocrisy.  Such killings are tragic, and if we took it seriously we'd put a stop to it.  But they're our enemies, and despite Jesus' command to love them, we believe it's ok to kill them, including their unborn babies.  That, my friends, is indeed hypocrisy.

Again, I'm pro-life.  Period.  But I also value the lives of those would-be mothers who are faced with tremendously difficult choices.  Yes, I want them to take those choices seriously and not casually.  But I also want anti-abortionists to take those choices seriously.  Unfortunately, most of the anti-abortionist folk are anti-abortion but also anti-involvement.  They want to pass a law against abortion, but don't want to do much to help these women face the consequences of carrying this child.  I think if we're going to do away with abortion, we need involvement.  The children produced have to be cared for and raised -- and in quality homes.  If we're not willing to do that by means of personal involvement, it seems rather calloused and indeed casual to be screaming that we need to outlaw abortion.

Further, I don't think we would eliminate abortion by passing laws against it.  Abortions occurred even before they were legal, and oftentimes they were fatal or severely injurious to the women.  We do NOT want to have the black-market abortions revived!  But besides that, the abortions would continue.  Why? Because so many Americans have value systems that allow for it.  So, the solution is not legislation, but to seek to change the value system.  But folks, it seems to me impossible to teach the value of life when we so easily take it and justify it in so many other areas of our civil existence.  The truth is that very few even of the Republicans who rail against abortion are really pro-life.  Want to end abortion?  Stop the wars. Stop invading countries as a "preemptive strike" against something we fear they might do in the future. Stop capital punishment.  Pass stricter gun laws and actually enforce them.  Pull the plug on the weapons industry.  Start putting all that weapons-money we spend as a nation each year into anti-poverty programs that result in real, living-wage jobs for people.  And the list could go on and on.  Only by valuing life as a society can we convey that "valuing life" means we should do away with abortion.  Go figure.

See, being "pro-life" means much more than simply being "anti-abortion."  The equation of those two is a major logic-flaw in the "conservative" position.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (1b): Definitions of "liberal" and "conservative"

One quick final comment about the labels "liberal" and "conservative": they are useless.  Utterly worthless.  They really say nothing about the one being labeled except he/she is to the right/left of the one labeling.  In other words, all they do is point out that the labeler believes that the one being labeled "conservative" seems to be to the "right" of the labeler, or that the one being labeled "liberal" is to the "left" of the labeler.  They say more about the labeler than the labeled.

And as pointed out above, the labels can be very misleading, and since they are typically used polemically, their function is mostly to stir up prejudice rather than to clarify arguments or positions.

Here's why I added this note: I've asserted my conservatism before, and some of my politically "conservative" friends have ignored it and simply responded by saying that they see nothing "conservative" in my positions.  Go figure.  Of course, I don't care.  I really don't.  I don't care where I fall on the political spectrum, or whether I'm to someone else's "right" or "left."  It's meaningless.  Why?  Because I'm a Christian.  That is my one allegiance -- both in my life and in my political, moral or philosophical arguments (not to mention theological!).

So, when politicians tout their "conservative credentials," I just have to laugh.  It's nothing more than a marketing ploy -- an emotional appeal that they hope will garner support from people who actually vote.  It's philosophically untenable and in fact dead wrong if one cares to examine the claim.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (1): Definitions of "liberal" and "conservative"

I'm sometimes told that I'm a "lightning rod."  I do seem to be able to create discussion ex nihilo, more or less.  I've posted Bible verses that started arguments, for crying out loud!  So, I do have my critics, and now and then some of them like to send me pieces that they think will convert me from my evil "liberal" ways to good Christian conservatism.  I read these, and I think about them.  The one I'm going to consider here in a series of posts was actually sent to me by my wife who over the years has started to consider me a little less crazy than she used to do.  (Or so I think; the truth is that I've become more "lefty" over the years.)  She saw this posted on Fb a few times so for some strange reason decided I should see it.

Now, I don't know the author, but the piece is posted on a site called "The Patriot Update: A Free Press for the Conservative Revolution."  You can read it all in one piece there if you like.  I'm going to post it in smaller chunks as I consider each of its alleged discoveries of hypocrisy in order.  This is the first installment.

Some initial clarification is in order.

First, I don't consider myself a liberal at all.  I know a lot of people see me as one, but I've written about this before.  Philosophically I'm a conservative.  I'm going to attempt a brief explanation here.

What does it mean to be a "conservative"?  It means to conserve something -- to believe that conserving this thing is important and to work to do so.  When we use the term "conservative" we're usually talking about certain traditional "values" that we think are important -- like marriage, life, honesty, etc.: "conservative values."  Why do we think these things are important?  Can we prove that they are somehow "better" than their opposites?  Can we prove that honesty, for instance, is better than dishonesty?  How would we do that?

Well, we would likely try to show all the trouble that DIShonesty can get one into, and that makes sense to me -- except that our world often rewards dishonesty, and those who are impeccably honest sometimes get, well, shafted.   While it would be nice to think that honesty always gets rewarded and that dishonest folks always "get theirs in the end," we know it just doesn't happen that way in our world.  Some dishonest folks right this moment are living lives of great luxury and laughing at all us "honest suckers."  If you're smart enough and ruthless enough, you can (as Nietzsche said we should) create your own moral standards and leave the "honesty" to those stupid enough to buy into it.

And of course we can all think of situations in which we would lie -- situations like in WWII era Holland, when some of the Dutch were hiding their Jewish neighbors.  If the Nazis came and knocked on YOUR door and asked you, "Are you hiding Jews in your house?", would you lie or tell the truth?  I'll tell you -- if I had been hiding Jews in my house, I would have lied to protect them.  No doubt.

So, why do we continue to think that honesty is better than its opposite?  We might simply claim that "everyone just knows that it is" along with the philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Problem: if everyone just knew that, why don't they do it?  Clearly some people think there is a better way.

In the end, as Christians (and this is the point of view from which I operate) we might have to fall back on a theological explanation: either that God (or scripture) has told us this is what we should do, or that we are told to be imitators of God or of Jesus, and this is they way God/Jesus is.

In other words, when other attempts at justification of honesty have failed, we're going to fall back on our Christian faith and heritage = tradition.  Why?  Because we think this is the best way to live.  Why do we think that?  It depends on how you define "best way to live."  As Christians we define that by means of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the stories of whom have been passed down in our scriptures.

So, we're going to be relying on the Christian tradition that produced our scriptures, and we have to admit that not everyone accepts our scripture as, indeed, scripture.  Other religions have their own scriptures.  And this means that we think that the Christian definition of honesty is worth preserving simply because we think it is the best definition available.  We could ask "why?" here again, but pretty soon you realize we're just like a dog chasing its tail, and this chase for a "final answer" can go on interminably if we let it.  I do think we'll finally come down to comparing Jesus to other great religious teachers, and I don't think we should be afraid of that.  But even then, we're going to have to argue that Jesus' life represents the best way of life for human beings -- and again, we're back to trying to define what we mean by that, and we have another argument on our hands.

My solution is to admit that we have a tradition that we think we can argue for, but it's still a tradition.  In reality, all thinking takes place within traditions (that's a broader point I won't try to demonstrate here).

So, I believe in conserving the Christian tradition.  That means I'm a conservative.

Now: "liberalism."  The liberal point of view was created in and along with the Enlightenment, and was indeed a rejection of tradition.  To be "enlightened," according to Kant (in his little book What is Enlightenment?) was to reject traditional morality in favor of "thinking for oneself."  More specifically, to "think for oneself" entailed a rejection of the traditional sources for morality, such as family, society, church and even the Bible!  In fact, Kant later wrote a book called Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone in which he tried to set Christianity on a purely rational basis (in my opinion it was a colossal failure).

So, as several contemporary thinkers have pointed out, America is by definition a nation of liberals.  We all (with only a few exceptions like myself) believe that we have rejected tradition (which we haven't -- but that's another argument) in favor of thinking for ourselves.  We believe that morality can be determined in a purely rational manner (but even Plato and Aristotle believed that you could not have morality without divine input!).  So even people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly are liberals.  They do not believe in conserving certain values because they are traditional, but they argue for them on (what they think is) a purely rational basis.  Further, they think that anyone who is really rational will see the truth of their positions -- which is another of the myths of the Enlightenment, i.e., that their version of "rationality" is indeed UNIVERSAL rationality = shared by ALL RATIONAL PEOPLE.

To be sure, there are in America different kinds of liberals: there are "left-leaning liberals" like Al Gore and Bill Clinton (and I really can't put Barack Obama in this category) and "right-leaning liberals" like Limbaugh and the GOP and the Tea Partiers, etc.  But they're all liberals.

And I'm a conservative.

So, if you want to argue with me, at some point you'll have to dispute my claims that certain positions deserve the label "Christian."  In other words, you'll have to argue that my positions are not "Christian," rather than that they might be bad economic or foreign policy, etc.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The "99%"????

Recently I've seen this pic posted several times on Facebook:

I know those who have posted this believe that they are calling attention to the fact that here in America we are better off (at least economically) than are many other nations of the world.  No doubt about that.

Also, I think they are probably trying to say: "quit whining!"  Another sentiment with which I can agree -- at least in part.

Here's the part that bugs me.

First of all, reminding us that there are others in the world who suffer deeply does not change anything about our situation in the United States.  We've still been duped, cheated and otherwise mugged by the banking industry that created the housing bubble that burst and thus began this crisis.  And yes, it is a "crisis" -- for many, many of our fellow Americans.  There are indeed many (over 9% of us in America) who are out of work and don't know how they're going to continue to provide life's basic needs for themselves and/or their families.  Is the top part of the photo merely a prophecy of what may become of those pictured in the bottom part?

Second, let's not forget that the crisis that began with American banks did not stay in America.  It quickly spread around the globe.  Every geographical area of our globe (except probably for the Arctic and Antarctic, presumably) has come under an economic "downswing," characterized in many places as a recession.  So, if the top photo was taken recently, then those folks are also suffering because of the world-wide economic downturn.

In other words, the "99%" of the bottom photo are not separate from the "99%" of the top photo.  Those in the Occupy movement are not "whining" because they don't want to work, because they want a free ride or a handout.  They are protesting an unjust system that has been rigged against everyone who is not an "insider" to the kind of financial trading/pirating that has characterized our banking industry.  So, the starving people at the top and the Occupy people at the bottom are all part of the "99%" -- which in fact probably means that "99%" needs to be expanded into "99.999999%," or something like that.

As I walked into a pizza place a couple of weeks ago I heard a lady on her cellphone telling the person on the other end of her call that the protesters should quit whining and go get a second job.  Can we please just admit that it's just not that easy for many people?  That there are real difficulties supporting a family in today's economy?  That jobs that pay enough to support a family just aren't that readily available?  That a "second job" for some is an impossibility until we can get them a decent FIRST JOB?

Certainly I can't speak for everyone who has turned out for one of the Occupy protests, but many of them seem to understand that this is not just an American issue -- that it is indeed global, and that they are protesting not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of all those around the world who are suffering from economic disadvantage.  The system is broken and it needs to be fixed.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Good stuff from Henry Chu, head of the LA Times' London bureau, on British reaction to the health-care debate in both America and in Great Britain:,0,1237142.story

In short, the British don't mind a little tinkering with their National Health Service, but the idea of privatizing it is abhorrent to them, and politicians are stumbling all over themselves in the rush to apologize for any comment that indicates they favor an "American Style Health Care System." Go figure.

In the final analysis, "Obamacare" will end up being a great compliment. You heard it here first.

Thanks to Mike Gipson for the link to the Henry Chu piece.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Voodoo Economics

I'm furious. I'm livid. I've been lied to, flat out, to my face, by someone you would think you would be able to trust.

I took a look at some of the new budget proposal being leveraged by the Republican party this week. Independent analysis -- a simple AP news story -- said clearly that the proposal would do several things, among them get rid of the health care law and to privatize Medicare and turn it into "vouchers." Sounds suspicious to me, just on the surface.

So, I called my local congressional Representative's office -- James Lankford. Didn't get to talk with him (go figure), but I asked The Voice on the phone if Lankford supported the budget proposal. The Voice exuberantly answered in the affirmative, and told me that Lankford had been on the subcommittee that had approved the proposal to go to the full House. Hmmmph.

So, as calmly as I could (probably not all that much) I told The Voice that Lankford needed to reconsider. He asked why. I told him that this proposal would cripple a lot of people -- that we need medicare and the health care bill. The Voice informed me that the proposal did not touch Medicare.

That's a lie. "Hogwash" is the most polite term I can think of here. I can think of many terms more descriptive and therefore more accurate. He's lying. Don't take my word for it. Please. Don't. Check it out.

And check out this column in the NY Times (I know, that horribly "liberal" publication, yada yada yada) by Nobel Prize winner for economics, Paul Krugman.

Notice where he gets his numbers for analysis of the Republican budget proposal: from the Congressional Budget Office -- a non-partisan office. Where did they get their numbers? They were provided by the Republicans.

So, working with numbers provided by the Republicans who proposed the budget -- what did they come up with? Huge deficits. A bankrupt nation. It's nothing but tax cuts for the rich and reduction in spending on programs that help those who need help the most.

This budget proposal is sinful. It attempts to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. We are turning the nation of "give me your tired and your poor" into the nation of "I've got mine and I'll shoot the b------ who tries to take it from me!"

I'm sorry, but that's just not like Jesus. Wait -- I take that back. I'm not sorry for saying that.

He also lied to me about military spending. Somewhere between 48% and 54% of federal spending goes into the military. Just google for info.

But Lankford's phone Voice essentially told me I was crazy and I needed to check my figures, and that "entitlement programs" make up most of the federal budgets. Bull.

Of course, I told him he needed to check HIS figures. Had a great affect on him I'll tell you. What a snappy comeback.

Well, I've checked around a little more. There are a variety of estimates out there. But all of them demonstrate that the military is our biggest expenditure. And again, I would challenge any Christian to come up with logical support for that expense on Biblical/Christian grounds. It just can't be done. We're supposed to love our enemies. Period. For some odd reason I think that means "don't kill them."

But, even if Christians do support the military -- does it have to be so large? We are the only nation that has military bases outside of our own borders, and we have almost 800 military bases world-wide. We are an empire. A militaristic empire. If we say nothing else here, we must at least say that we could cut back a bit and then we'd have the money to take care of those in our society who are unable to completely take care of themselves.

But, the Republican budget proposal won't do that. It will take care of the wealthiest members of our society and cut out as much assistance to the lower strata as it can. It's the budget of "I've got mine!"

Parting shot, from the Washington Post (no "liberal" source this time!): the report of the words of Rajiv Shah, the administrator for the US Agency for International Development, before congress this week. Shah said:
We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 would lead to 70,000 kids dying. Of that 70,000, 30,000 would come from malaria control programs that would have to be scaled back, specifically. The other 40,000 is broken out as 24,000 who would die because of a lack of support for immunizations and other investments, and 16,000 would be because of the lack of skilled attendants at birth.
The Republican response came from Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.):

Nearly every administration witness appearing before the Appropriations Committee . . . has put forward nightmare scenarios and dire numbers to argue why we should not be reducing spending in any program. Republicans won't be drawn into a debate over what might happen based on speculations and hype.

So, there's your "compassionate conservatism" for you. Is that like Jesus? Really -- tell me. It is just this kind of thing that made me repent of voting Republican. Yes, I did -- I voted for Reagan. May God have mercy.

Monday, April 04, 2011

It's OK to be Jewish (or whatever)

Thanks to the blog of "Beach Bum," (who's been following my blog here for a short time) -- "The Life and Times of a Carolina Parrothead" -- I've also run across the blog of Karen Van der Zee, called "Life in the Expat Lane." Haven't read much of it yet, but what I've read has been more than entertaining and even a bit enlightening. She lives "abroad," and in some very strange places, and she writes about her experiences. She has written a book, available in ebook format for $2.95 (if I recall correctly [yup, just checked]) called You're Moving Where? The first chapter, "It's OK to be Jewish," is available free, and relates her experiences in her first few days living in the Palestinian West Bank town of Ramallah, where she discovers it's ok to be Jewish (which she's not).

A theme I've touched on before on this blog and on Facebook is that the Muslim faith is not "inherently violent," and that all Muslims are NOT "terrorists," etc. And it's a topic on which people like to disagree with me. Well, I think I have an advantage in this argument because I have some Muslims who are friends. In fact, I've made friends of Muslims in various places around the world -- New York, Vienna, Austria, the Philippines. The one on the train from Poughkeepsie, New York, admitted to me (in 1985) not only that he was Muslim, but "it's even worse than that," he said: "I'm Shiite." And this was only a few years after the incident in Iran during the Jimmy Carter administration. The fellow in the Philippines (on an all-night ferry from Butuan to Cebu) drank his beer and confessed to me why he was a lousy Muslim (in part because he was drinking beer!). Oh -- and I forgot the mention the guy (apparently Turkish) we shared a train compartment with in Europe who looked like Sadaam Hussein. No kidding. He gave chocolates to the kids. Nice guy! We communicated a little in broken German (well, mine was broken). And the pizza guy in Vienna who wanted to practice his English. Yada yada yada (a Hebrew expression; "yada" means "I know" in Hebrew).

So, thanks, Beach Bum -- who has some really good posts of his own.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Intervention in Libya

Just as I'm nearly always unable to watch violent crime shows (whether "reality" or merely fiction), I've been unable to pay attention to most of what is going on in Libya. Violence is abhorrent to me. I cannot stand to watch the newscasts that show bombs being dropped, and so on. Knowing that we -- the US -- had just started a THIRD war just pains me.

And it's not that I'm incapable of violence. Unfortunately, far from it. I am committed to non-violence, but in part because I know the kind of hate that I feel from time to time -- but I don't like it. I won't give you examples, but you can take my word for it.

I am also committed to human freedom, and I empathize with the folks in Libya who have suffered repression for many years. I want them to have something better. No one should have to live in terror. "Give peace, O Lord, in all the world, for only in you can we live in safety" -- this is part of one of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer that I say almost daily. People should be able to live in peace and safety because we are all children of God.

But, though I empathize with the rebels in Libya, I cannot support the role the US is playing in that conflict. I cannot support it because, though we might regard Gadhafi and his forces as our enemies, we Christians are called to love our enemies -- even (and perhaps especially) those who would like to kill us and may be actively trying to do so at some given moment. Think Jesus here. He didn't hate (wow!) those who were beating him, spitting on him, insulting him, pounding nails through his feet and forearms, cramming a ring of thorns down on his scalp, and so on. And it wasn't just that he was the Son of God -- a ploy we sometimes use to try to keep Jesus sanitary and out of the way of any real temptation. Nope. He faced temptations with exactly the same tools available to me and to you -- prayer, fasting, scripture. He was tempted in every way just as we are. Which means he was tempted to hate those who hated him and insulted him and insulted his God!!!! Tempted; but he didn't do it. He didn't hate them. We cannot hate our enemies. We must love them. Even Gadhafi.

But, so it has been argued, if we didn't intervene, Gadhafi's forces would have overrun the rebels and made a quick end to the effort to secure their human rights. We could not just "do nothing." Intervention was the right thing to do.

This is the stereotypical argument against non-violence. Non-violence is simply equated with "doing nothing" or non-intervention, and those two (alleged) opposites are juxtaposed as if they were the only two possibilities.

That's simply a lack of imagination, at best, and at worst it is a lust for and trust in violence. Is it true that violence breeds violence? Doesn't history teach us that much? Can we really count on violence to "change the world" (as if creating more violence would really constitute a "change")? The Dr. Phil question needs to be asked here: "So, how's that working out for you?" So long as we keep our historical blinders on, we might think it's working out pretty well.

"Pacifism" does not equal "passivism." Non-violence is not non-intervention. It does, however, require more imagination and infinitely more courage. Could we have sent blue-helmeted UN troops into Libya? Could we have encouraged the rebels to follow the example of Egypt and renounce violence?

"But that wouldn't work!" I can hear the protests already. And they may well be correct. It may not, in this particular case, work. There is equally no guarantee that the violence will "work." So violence is what nations do in place of trusting God.

But it's not what Christians are called to do. We are not called to "solutions that work," or that we think we can secure under our own power. We're not called to make things work. We're called to be faithful to the one we call "Lord" -- the very one who loved his enemies.

Simon Barrow of the Ekklesia Project said a similar thing in this article. He has imagination. And courage. And he points out that it is a lie that violence was our only option. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Parting shot by Bob Herbert, NY Times

Thanks to Professor Mike Gipson for providing this link to Bob Herbert's last NY Times column.

I've had the idea for some time that the growing disparity between the uber-rich and the poor, with a shrinking middle class, will drive the US closer and closer toward "social unrest," which if successful might remain peaceful, but if unsuccessful might . . . well, things could get ugly. Interestingly, though, it has been the right wing folks who have been talking about "second amendment solutions." Can we read the handwriting on the wall?

Because I believe in Jesus, I believe I should love my enemies, even those who want to kill me and will do so if given half a chance. Love, not kill them. So I am not advocating revolution. But I suspect that people driven to desperation who do not share my conviction about loving enemies will at some point be willing to do things I am not. It pains me to write this, but it's a prediction and nothing more.

Of course, those folks who are the uber-rich will simply take their fortunes with them to their private islands in the Caribbean with their private armies, or run off to live in whatever nation will give them the best tax breaks and the least interference with their weapons purchases. I doubt any social unrest will greatly affect the top 10% percent income folks that Herbert talks about in his column.

Can change happen peacefully? I hope so. But it will not if the agenda of some to balance the national and state budgets on the backs of the poor is successful. Those who want to cut programs of assistance to the poor and even the elderly, and to remove health care, etc., recite the usual mantra that these programs are in essence "handouts" to the poor, and the poor are "freeloading off of hardworking Americans," etc.

Occasionally, of course, that occurs. NO ONE, not even Democrats or (gasp!) socialists, are in favor of allowing people to freeload when they are capable of contributing. BOTH SIDES of this argument are against "freeloading," and we try to set up our programs so that freeloading does not occur. People who CAN contribute MUST contribute. Again, we're not 100% successful with that, but that's the goal of even Democrats.

So please: those who think assistance programs are all about allowing "freeloading," get off it. Stop lying.

Both sides also agree that there are some people who, for various reasons, either cannot contribute (the disabled, etc.), or who have already contributed enough (such as the elderly who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security, and would like to have a few years of retirement and relaxation as they close our their lives in peace). There are some elderly, however, who have such a great retirement package via their investments or private retirement programs that they don't need Social Security. If that is the case, then it would be for the best of our society as a whole for them to give it up. What that level is should be determined by a discussion at all levels of our society.

Where the disagreement seems to take place, it seems to me, is on the question of public assistance to people who are physically able to work, but have other obstacles: lack of education, children to raise, etc. Sometimes their own bad choices have contributed to their status.

Folks who typically want to cut programs for these folks tend to understand their status as completely the result of their bad choices, so completely their own responsibility. Therefore, since their status is completely their own fault, no one else has the responsibility to help them. Do they live in a depressed area where there are few jobs? Well, they should move somewhere else. Do they have too many kids to take care for, and lack education to get a job that pays well enough to support them all? Well, they should have used birth control. They should have gone to college. They should get off their rear ends and get SOME kind of job -- even if it means that they have to leave their kids in day care, and they can't really afford day care, or by the time they paid for daycare they would not have enough money left to pay rent and buy groceries. Well, it's their own fault. They could have made better choices at age fourteen or fifteen or sixteen, and their lives would have been better. It is their own fault, so no one else has responsibility to help them.

On the other side are those who can look at such situations and admit that our society does NOT give everyone equal opportunity. In theory, of course we do. But I know (and have written about it in the past) that many people -- especially people of color in America -- do not perceive that there is equal opportunity. They do not grow up with positive role models continually telling them that they can do whatever they put their minds to -- that they can go to college, grad school, or that they can achieve good things in their lives -- all the things I learned to believe about myself because I had good parents and a good social situation. There are those who believe that we as a society have contributed to this situation and as a society should address it. (Certainly there are those who grow up in negative surroundings that indeed rise above them. But, look at the statistics: there are many more who do not. ) Yes, people make bad choices. Some people, it seems to me, are probably unteachable in this regard. But as a society we have to keep trying. And the only way to do that is to have programs that the rest of us pay into, hoping that some people will find their way to "get on their feet" and eventually to contribute. It may mean we need to provide day care for their children so the adults can either go to school or get job training. If we do that, we're also going to need to find a way to guarantee them jobs after the training is done. There has to be hope. If there is no real hope of a better life afterward, the program will certainly fail.

Health care also has to be a concern. I'm baffled by our folks in Oklahoma who complain that "Obamacare" is going to cost "us" (who is that?) money. We have many more insured in OK now, so it is definitely helping some people. We've receive federal money to help with that.

But the biggest factor is this: people without health insurance will still get medical care, but it will be at the ER, and in the end it costs the rest of us much more than if they had health insurance and could go to the doctor before something becomes an emergency -- or they will not have to use the ER as their "regular doctor." Preventative medicine is cheaper in the long run than crisis medicine. So, if we take health insurance away from people covered by the federal health insurance law, we'll all still pay for their health care. It will just cost us more. The federal plan is cheaper for society as a whole.

So why is it that so many people now seem to be on the "balance the budget bandwagon"? I don't have a good answer for that. I'm in favor of balancing the budget, but not of removing the protections for the poor and elderly, and so on. So, where do we cut?

Where do we spend the most? Look it up. Here's one assessment: military spending is 54% of the federal budged, and approximately $1,449 billion. Non-military is 46% and $1,210 billion (2009 figures).

So, when Bob Herbert points out that we're trying to remove "social programs" and have entered another war, I'm depressed and even incensed. And more depressed because so many Christians think that removing the assistance to the poor and needy and carrying on three wars -- and spending the greatest part of our nation's money on them -- is somehow "right," or "righteous," or "just" or "holy." It is none of those things.

Just a few select pieces of evidence from the Bible (there are many others). The prophet Amos condemns the practices of the rich Israelites who are "building houses of hewn stone" (5.11), "lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall" (in other words, they're giving themselves great feasts), "who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils" (they have the very best of spa/health care -- 6.4, 6) -- who in essence are "living the good life."

But, they "trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain . . . and push aside the needy in the gate"; they "trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land . . . buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals" (6.11-12, 8.4, 8.6). In other words, though they're living the good life, they don't care for the poor among them. They enjoy the good life at the expense of the poor -- thus they trade the poor for their new pair of shoes and their comfortable houses.

You can read the judgment passages for yourself. It's harsh, to say the least. When Amos pleads: "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (5.24), he's pleading on behalf of the poor. He's not just saying "avoid the big sins like idolatry and adultery." "Justice" and "righteousness" are attributes of God and are frequently used either in tandem or synonymously. Also, in fact ONLY God is truly "good" (says Jesus -- Matthew 19.17, Mark 10.18, Luke 18.19). We tend to define "justice" as "getting what one deserves," and as opposite of "mercy." But in the Old Testament, especially in the prophets and the Psalms, they seem to point in another direction. Notice Psalm 72.1: "Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son." The writer then proceeds to describe what practical effects will ensue if God does that: "
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor" (72.2-4).

If the king does this, he should be rewarded (v. 11), "
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight" (72.12-14).

"Justice" and "righteousness," then, are not just keeping oneself away from the "big sins," nor are they the opposite of "mercy." In fact, they are the very definition of "mercy." And "mercy" is the very definition of "justice and righteousness."

This is why so many theologians have pointed out that God has a "preference for the poor." Jesus never said "blessed are the rich." He said "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6.20).

Hey -- don't blame me, I didn't make this stuff up.

I don't know if Bob Herbert would agree with all of this, but I suspect he would with good bits of it.

But in the final analysis, Christians have to be on the side of the poor. And to those who say "I AM on the side of the poor -- I just think we should do it individually, or that it should be churches that assist the poor, not government": I challenge you with history. It has never been done. It may be true that if Christians all pooled their money we could do away with world hunger. It doesn't matter if it's true or not. It ain't happening. Poverty and hunger and disease are huge problems. They will not be addressed by small institutions -- nor no institutions. I suspect that excuse is just another way for we Christians to be selfish. It may not be for you, but it is for many. So, that claim is empty and needs to be abandoned.

Others will fall back on the words of Jesus: "the poor you always have with you." I'm pretty sure that wasn't a statement of a social program, and we shouldn't take it as one. That was a statement directed toward those who grumbled about the woman who anointed him with perfume just before his death -- here was an opportunity that would never occur again, and there would be plenty of time to do good for the poor later on (Mtt. 26.11, Mark 14.7, John 12.8). That's all. He's not claiming that poverty should not be addressed or cannot be solved.

Simply put, the new budgets I'm seeing proposed are immoral. They demonstrate what we as a nation value, and they are showing more and more clearly that we as a nation are selfish, therefore immoral. Do we as Christians have the guts to stand up and tell this to our legislators? To our neighbors? To our church leaders? To our President? To our state governors? If we let this opportunity go by, we are just as guilty as the Israelites addressed by Amos.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why support NPR?

Here's why.

Because NPR isn't owned by someone who is concerned to make money for themselves or stockholders. Profit isn't a motive. Truth is. Rupert Murdoch or the Koch brothers or the Kennedy family or whoever can't control this kind of news or analysis. If you treasure democracy, you must treasure independent sources of information because you cannot vote well if you cannot get good information.

I for one do get annoyed at NPR from time to time because it seems to me that they bend over backwards to allow some voices to be heard that I really don't want to hear. But I know they need to be heard, and I myself NEED to hear them. But as I've said on this blog before, I also consult a variety of newspapers and news sources, such as the BBC and Al Jazeera (both the online news source and the magazine -- don't be afraid, you won't get "Muslimized" or something if you go to their site. But you will definitely get a different view of the news, and your view of the US may indeed be challenged. Even if you don't agree, you'll have to do a better job of defending your point of view! If you can't take that and deal with it, you have no claim to be pursuing the truth. So stop telling the rest of us that you are.).